On Saturday night, former UFC light-heavyweight titleholder Rashad Evans will enter the Octagon to face Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 161. Although Evans has certainly been here before, the circumstances this go-round are a little different: it will be the first time in his career that Rashad will have to compete coming off of consecutive losses.
For most UFC fighters, losing three straight fights is a veritable death sentence. The promotion is ruthless when it comes to releasing underperforming talent, and many a prospect has been let go after just two non-consecutive losses. But as an Ultimate Fighter season winner and former champion, Evans probably doesn’t have to worry about job security, even if he falls victim to Henderson’s powerful right hand (the vaunted “H-Bomb”, as it’s come to be known). The UFC has been known to offer a substantial amount of leeway to fighters who garner name recognition or command popular support in one of the company’s target markets.
And yet even though a loss to Henderson might not technically mean the end of Evans’ UFC career, it could mean that he will no longer be considered a championship caliber fighter. It’s never a good omen when a fighter’s heart is called into question, but in his last two outings, desire has seemingly been the area where the former 205-pound kingpin was most lacking. After a string of victories led him to a showdown with current UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Evans fought like a man who was trying not to lose and eventually lost a lop-sided decision.
Yet despite that relatively lackluster performance, Evans was soon thrown into the mix as a possible contender for Anderson Silva’s UFC middleweight championship, assuming he could make the cut to 185 pounds. All he had to do was get through perennial 205-pound contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who is a talented fighter but has struggled against strong wrestlers. But despite being an over 3-to-1 favorite, Evans was strangely aloof during the fight and showed almost no willingness to push the pace. He dropped another unanimous decision and the potential match with Silva went up in smoke.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s hard to view UFC 161 as anything less than a career-defining moment for Rashad Evans. Can he roar back to life and show the form that once allowed him to climb to the top of the division? Or will he fade into the background once again, with the glory days as nothing more than a distant memory? We’ll see on Saturday whether Evans can rise to the occasion and reclaim his spot as one of the light-heavyweight division’s top contenders.